Sheriff’s office wants a new helicopter |

Sheriff’s office wants a new helicopter

Submitted photoThe Placer County Sheriff's Department helicopter is primarily used for patrol, search and rescue, aerial photography and drug searches. The department is looking to upgrade from their 1971 Bell OH58 to a newer helicopter with more sophisticated equipment and high altitude capabilities.

Placer County Sheriff’s Office officials say they’re ready for a new helicopter, but they’ll have to wait for a county feasibility study to see if it’s possible.

They have been flying the same helicopter, a 1971 Bell OH-58, for the last 11 years. They would like to upgrade to a $3.2 million machine with more sophisticated equipment and high altitude capabilities.

Capt. Dave Harris, the division commander of support services with Placer County, has been researching and recommending a new helicopter for the last five years. A new helicopter equipped with bucket capabilities is ideal, said Harris, so if the department is first on the scene of a fire they can dispatch for help and potentially stop a small fire from becoming a larger one.

“I’ve personally seen a house fully engulfed in flames,” said Harris. “Because we didn’t have the ability to do anything about it.”

The department acquired its current helicopter in 1995 from the Department of Defense and primarily uses it for patrol, search and rescue, drug searches and aerial photography.

The current helicopter, which is stationed at Auburn Municipal Airport, is not only old requiring increasing maintenance costs, but has power limitations at high altitudes and restricted lift and weight capacities, Harris said.

A newly equipped helicopter would provide the necessary power to get over mountain summits for search and rescue operations, he said.

Bruce Kranz, Placer County District Five Supervisor, is a proponent of using county funds to purchase the new helicopter.

Recognizing that there is a significant risk of catastrophic wildfire in the Tahoe basin is important, but having the means to deal with such a disaster is key, Kranz said.

“Anything we can do to get to a [catastrophic] wildfire is important,” he said.

The cost of the new helicopter is estimated at $3.2 million, including equipment, such as thermal imaging systems, a high-powered search light and an aero-computer, said Harris. The current helicopter would be maintained as a backup.

The county office is conducting a feasibility study to be completed by mid-December. The results will be presented to the Placer County Board of Supervisors to see if funding the helicopter is an option. Fixed and direct operational costs associated with maintenance, personnel and insurance will also be presented at that time.

The board of supervisors has already set aside $1.5 million to move ahead with the project if approved, with $1 million of that from the county’s general fund and $500,000 from the sheriff’s department surplus sales.

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